Soil-transmitted helminth infections are a major global health issue, causing substantial morbidity in the world's poorest populations. Regular delivery of anthelmintic drugs is the mainstay for global soil-transmitted helminth control. Deworming campaigns are often targeted to school-aged children, who are at high risk of soil-transmitted-helminth-associated morbidity. However, findings from modelling studies suggest that deworming campaigns should be expanded community-wide for effective control of soil-transmitted helminth transmission. We aimed to do a systematic review and meta-analysis to compare the effect of mass (community-wide) and targeted (children only) anthelmintic delivery strategies on soil-transmitted helminth prevalence in school-aged children.
In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we searched MEDLINE, Embase, and Web of Science for articles published on or before Nov 5, 2015, reporting soil-transmitted helminth prevalence before and after distribution of albendazole or mebendazole, either targeted to children or delivered to the whole community. We excluded studies in which drug delivery was restricted to infected individuals or to a subset of the community or school, or if follow-up time was less than 3 months or greater than 18 months after drug delivery. We extracted data on study year, country, drug administration strategy, drug dose, number of deworming rounds, treatment coverage, diagnostic method, follow-up interval, and soil-transmitted helminth prevalence before and after treatment. We used inverse variance weighted generalised linear models, with prevalence reduction as the outcome variable, to examine the effect of mass versus targeted drug administration, as well as baseline prevalence, number of drug doses, and follow-up time. This study is registered with PROSPERO, number CRD42016026929.
Of 10 538 studies identified, 56 studies were eligible for the systematic review and 38 of these were included in meta-analysis. Results of the regression models showed that mass deworming led to a significantly greater reduction in prevalence in children than targeted deworming, for both hookworm (odds ratio 4·6, 95% CI 1·8–11·6; p=0·0020) and Ascaris lumbricoides (16·4, 2·1–125·8; p=0·0092), with no effect seen for Trichuris trichiura. There was significant heterogeneity across studies; for targeted studies I2 was 97% for A lumbricoides and hookworm, and 96% for T trichiura, and for mass studies, I2 was 89% for A lumbricoides, 49% for hookworm, and 66% for T trichiura.
The results of this meta-analysis suggest that expanding deworming programmes community-wide is likely to reduce the prevalence of soil-transmitted helminths in the high-risk group of school-aged children, which could lead to improved morbidity outcomes. These findings are in support of recent calls for re-evaluation of global soil-transmitted helminth control guidelines.